A '90s Graffiti Artist Reflects on Bushwick: Adam Maldonado, Then And Now
Adam Maldonado is a 52-year-old Bushwick native and a graffiti artist since he was a teenager.
Adam Maldonado is a 52-year-old Bushwick native and a self-described graffiti artist. When I chatted with him recently and the idea of making a comeback came up, he laughed: “At my age, there’s no coming back," he says.
Maldonado has seen the neighborhood change dramatically over the decades. “We never had this diversity,” he says. “Back in the day it was only Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Blacks, and that was it, that was the whole neighborhood. Now you see Caucasians and little shops. You see trees, we never had trees! It’s so much better, I love it.”
Of course, not everything is perfect. Today, Maldonado sees problems with the police in the neighborhood. “You see a lot of injustice and abuse,” he confesses. “Not only the cops, there’s always abuse with relationships and being prejudemental [sic] with other people over their race or color. That’s a problem. That needs to stop.”
For Maldonado, growing up in Bushwick was a lot different than it is today. “In the early '90s, there were drugs all over the place, racism, which is still going on now, recession, the AIDS epidemic … [in my work] I like to send a message about society, a problem, something that affects everybody.”
Remembering a particular Bushwick mural from the 1990s (pictured above), Maldonado describes its composition within the context of the times. “In the middle, it’s the world and the nationalities of the neighborhood … surrounding it is drugs, racism, a guy and a girl with a condom over their heads, thinking ‘should I use it?’”
Maldonado and his brothers went Erasmus Hall High School in Flatbush. As a high school graffiti artist, Maldonado’s tag was DOC TPE.
“They used to call me Doctor A, or Doctor,” he says. “But if you read it in Spanish, Doctora is like nurse, so I shortened it up. And TPE was a little graffiti crew we were in … The Public Enemy.”
In his early twenties, his mother died, and his life changed drastically. “My mother was the one who kept everyone together,” Maldonado says. “And when she passed away, my brothers went their separate ways … one bro was in and out of jail. I was young, and my father didn’t want me to go that way. My father, RIP, he had money.”
At the time Maldonado had a friend, Joey, from the neighborhood who was backpacking around Europe. His father offered to pay for his trip to Europe and Maldonado accepted.
“I stayed with Joey, and we travelled, and I’d see things,” Maldonado boasts. “At my age, especially from my neighborhood, it was once in a lifetime. We went, we roughed, learned a lot of things.”
Maldonado ultimately spent 18 months traveling Europe, appreciating new and different cultures and art. And when he returned to Brooklyn, he was inspired.
Some 30 years later, he is still inspired by what he experienced on that trip, as well as his life in his hometown.
Speaking on the phone as he was driving to Target to buy a birthday gift for his three-year-old daughter, talking about his family and his past, Maldonado reflected on how he hopes his art will be an important part of his legacy.
“Things could’ve happened to me,” he laments. “I got a three-year-old and a 15-year-old. My 15-year-old, he does art and he’s pretty good at it. And I want him to be proud of me. God forbid something happen to me. I don’t have a lot of money, but if I can leave just my art, it’d mean the world … I wanna contribute to my neighborhood so that when my kids get older, they see it and say, 'Oh my dad was an artist.'”
Inspired by the Bushwick Collective murals, he did some research during his break on the computer at the warehouse where he works loading and unloading trucks, which is how he found Bushwick Daily and dropped us a line.
Though his life has changed immeasurably since his early days as an artist, Maldonado's passion for his work is still evident when he discusses plans for future projects.
There’s a public pool right behind the apartment housing where Maldonado lives and he wants to submit a proposal to paint a mural. “There’s a real ugly sign [there] now," he says.
Have you seen Maldonado's tag around? Keep an eye out for it, Bushwick!
Born and raised in Bushwick, Brookyln, Adam Maldonado is available for custom work, paintings, murals, and apparel. Email email@example.com.
Featured image: Maldonado in Bushwick in the '90s. All photos courtesy of Adam Maldonado.